Kona is a wonderful place to vacation, whether you’re a new or experienced Hawaii visitor. The sunny, scenic town is located on the western edge of the Big Island of Hawaii, and it’s home to stylish hotels, pristine beaches, and some of the most memorable adventures in the entire state.
Are you planning a visit to the Kona district soon? Or wondering if it’s where you should plan to stay during your next Hawaii vacation? Read along to learn about the best things to do in Kona Hawaii, and get ready to discover a place rich with history and culture.
HIKE THE HAWAIIAN FOREST AND KONA VOLCANO CRATER
Hualālai, an active volcano, looms tall over Kona. Its last eruption ended in 1801, and much of Kona is surrounded by its lava fields.
The Hidden Craters Hike allows Big Island explorers to walk through lush rainforests and desolate lava landscapes, all a short drive away from Kona.
Access to Hualālai is restricted since much of the volcano is on private property. But Hawaii Forest & Trail offers permitted guided hikes through the area, and it’s an experience that is as inspiring as it is exclusive.
The hike is over three miles total, and you’ll walk in cloud forests, through an other-worldly lava tube, and along the edge of magnificent craters.
Book your reservations with Hawaii Forest & Trail in advance. It’s not the cheapest activity in Kona, but it could be worth it to explore the island’s westernmost volcano, that’s otherwise shrouded in mystery.
SNORKEL KEALAKEKUA BAY
Kealakekua Bay is one of the island’s best snorkeling spots – the wildlife sanctuary and state park is home to an array of fish, corral, and spinner dolphins, and it’s protected from wind and surf.
It’s also a historic place. Kealakekua Bay was significant for Hawaiians who worshiped here, and a Heiau temple still stands at the park today. It’s also where many western explorers made landfall in Hawaii, and where Captain Cook died during his third journey to the islands.
There’s a memorial for Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay. It serves as a reminder of the time not so long ago when western culture found its way to Hawaii. The memorial also marks some of the state’s most gorgeous water, though the area can be hard to access.
If you arrive by car, you’ll park at the far end of the bay in the Nāpō‘opo‘o area. But to get to the far end of the bay where the Captain Cook Memorial is, you’ll either need to take the 1.9-mile hike in the sun, rent a permitted kayak, or take a boat tour.
Kealakekua Bay is located South of Kona on Nāpō’opo’o Road. Visit in the morning for the calmest and clearest water.
SWIM WITH MANTA RAY
Did you know that one of the best places in the world to view manta rays is in Hawaii? But you can’t find these large and magnificent creatures everywhere in the state. If you want the best manta ray experience, Kona is the place to be.
Book a spot on a commercial tour to see the manta rays up close during their night feedings. Tour companies will know the best places for viewing and provide lighting to attract them.
Most tours access the manta ray feeding sites via boats, but there are also a few swim-in tours, plus options to view them from land, like at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay.
Get Your Guide is a great place to purchase an Eco-Friendly Twilight Manta Ray Adventure in Kona. You’ll get to swim with giant manta rays after sunset and observe these graceful creatures as they feed on plankton from a floating light raft. It’s truly one of the best things to do in Kona Hawaii!
OR SPINNER DOLPHINS
The Kona coast is home to lots of Spinner dolphins as well. These playful mammals feed, play, and rest in the beautiful waters off the Big Island. But how do you view Spinner dolphins up close?
Your best option is to book a Dolphin Quest Experience at Hilton Waikoloa Village. You don’t have to be staying at the hotel to book this adventure, and it’s one of the best ways to interact with and learn about these smart and friendly animals.
The dolphins at Waikoloa Village are captive, and the experiences are centered around conservation and education.
It’s recently become illegal to interact with wild dolphins in Hawaii, so you won’t be able to book an excursion dedicated to swimming with them. However, if you book a snorkeling trip along the Kona Coast, you will likely see them playing in the water not far from your boat.
VISIT THE BEACHES OF KEKAHA KAI STATE PARK
Whether you want to hike along a scenic coastal trail or relax on a sandy shoreline, Kekaha Kai State Park is the place to be. Multiple beaches make up this large park – the most popular are Mahai’ula Beach to the South, Makalawena Beach in the middle, and Manini’owali Beach / Kua Bay at the Northern end.
Mahai’ula Beach is spacious and typically great for swimming. Four-wheel drive is recommended to access the parking lot, but many standard cars make it fine along the unpaved road. It’s a bit of a walk from the parking lot to the beach, which helps keep the area quiet and pristine.
If you want to access a beach with even more beauty and seclusion, continue hiking north to Makalawena Beach, which features white sand and clear water. Since there’s no convenient parking, the beach stays unpopulated and totally serene.
Beachgoers wanting a more accessible walk to the shoreline should pass Mahai’ula Beach and continue driving North. Kua Bay (Manini’owali Beach) is a popular and family-friendly beach with excellent swimming conditions and lots of parking.
Access to Kekaha Kai State Park is between miles 88 and 91 on Highway 19.
FEEL LIKE A GIANT AT THE OCEAN RIDER SEAHORSE FARM
If you want a unique eco-adventure in Kona, consider touring the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm. This family-run business raises seahorses to be used as pets or in aquariums.
Their mission is to offer farmed seahorses, so traders don’t have to jeopardize natural resources by capturing wild ones. During your tour, you’ll learn about the many seahorse species they raise, see babies and pregnant males, and enjoy an interactive fish-feeding area.
A certified biologist leads all tours, and you can plan to spend about an hour and a half here. The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm is about 5 minutes south of the Kona Airport.
SOAK UP THE SUN AT HAPUNA BEACH
If you want to enjoy sand and surf while in Kona, you must visit Hapuna Beach. Located just North of Kona, this is one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the Hawaiian Islands.
Beyond the shore break, you’ll find calm water that’s perfect for snorkeling or swimming.
Get here early to enjoy the least amount of crowds and the calmest conditions. The beach park has a per-person entry fee, which is worth it to experience such a gorgeous location.
TOUR MOUNTAIN THUNDER COFFEE PLANTATION
Kona is world famous for its coffee, and you can learn more about how farmers grow and process this crop at a Coffee Plantation Tour.
The Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation tour is a budget-friendly activity that’s educational and interactive. Not only are these tours free, but they include samples of farm-fresh coffee. They run every half hour and are a great way to learn about coffee – a product you likely use daily, but rarely think of as a blossoming fruit.
If you want to learn even more about Kona Coffee, Big Island farming, and the area’s unique history, consider booking a guided Kona Tour like this one. You’ll be able to visit Bay View Coffee, one of the oldest coffee farms in the state. Plus, they’ll drive you to a scenic beach and a bee farm for a complete eco adventure.
SEE A RANGER TALK AT PUUHONUA O HONAUNAU NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is a place rich with history, and it’s also incredibly scenic. Pā Puʻuhonua is the Great Wall of Kona, and ancient Hawaiians sought refuge and forgiveness within its borders.
The half-mile trail leads visitors through sacred grounds. You’ll walk through a royal coconut grove, pass by Hawaiian temples and carvings of gods, and stand before the 950-foot-long wall that lends the park its name.
A visit to the park will allow visitors to learn about Hawaiian Culture, thanks to the many practitioners on-hand throughout the week.
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is about 20 miles south of Kona. Admission is charged per car, and there is plenty of parking near the visitor’s center.
MAKE FRIENDS WITH A CEPHALOPOD AT KANALOA OCTOPUS FARM
Science freaks and casual nature enthusiasts alike will find the Kanaloa Octopus Farm simply fascinating. The research center breeds and raises octopuses to reduce the number of species removed from the wild.
Booking a tour at Kanaloa will allow you to see a different side of aquaculture, as the farm is centered around research rather than trade. It’s privately owned, and much of its funding comes from booking tours, so you’ll receive an unforgettable experience as you also support its mission.
The octopuses here are often friendly. During your tour, you may be able to shake hands with one or feel its suction cups.
The Kanaloa Octopus Farm is located by the Kona Airport. Be prepared for warm weather, as the research tanks are outdoors under shade awnings.
WATCH THE SUN SET ON KALOKO-HONOKOHAU NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK
Catch the best sunset views on the Big Island at Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park. This beautiful area is free to visit and almost always has sea turtles on the shore.
You can see first-hand how Hawaiians used fish ponds for sustenance and see the remains of a settlement that was once on the land.
There are two parking lots at the park: one is next to the visitor’s center, and one is closer to the fish pond. A hiking trail connects the two areas in case you’d like to explore the park on foot.
CARVE YOUR OWN TIKI
Want a hands-on adventure unique to Polynesia? Get Your Guide offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to carve your own Tiki in Kona with a master carver.
Travel to a scenic, quiet farm nestled among coffee fields and historic jungle land. Choose your piece of locally-sourced wood and then follow the guidance of your teacher, a Tongan cultural practitioner who is an expert at carving.
This adventure is fun, plus you’ll have a souvenir that you made yourself while learning about Polynesian culture. The coffee and adventure farm is located on Mamalahoa Highway in Kona.
BOOK A TOUR TO SEE THE KONA CLOUD FOREST SANCTUARY
Just 10 minutes away from sunny Kona, you’ll find the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary, a chilly and lush area on the slopes of Hualalai Volcano. The tropical vegetation here is watered by thick condensation instead of rainfall.
The sanctuary owners have spent decades rebuilding the unique ecosystem and invite visitors to take guided tours of their property.
The sanctuary features an array of native plants, like the Ohio tree and native ferns, along with ornamental tropical plants. Here you can see a Rainbow Eucalyptus tree and a variety of orchids. They’ve also styled the sanctuary with statues, benches, and archways, which gives it a unique secret garden appeal.
Call 808-325-6440 to book your tour. Reviewers rave over the staff here, who treat visitors like VIP guests and offer a wealth of information about tropical plant life and ecosystems.
SHOP AT THE KONA FARMERS MARKET
If you want a pleasant shopping experience with a fun island vibe, stop by the Kona Farmers Market. You’ll find a selection of fruit and vegetables, along with some fun souvenirs to take home.
The Kona Farmers Market is open Wednesday through Sunday and is located on Ali’i Drive in Kona.
If you want even more local goodies, visit the Keauhou Shopping Center nearby on Saturday mornings. The Keauhou Market features local crafts, an assortment of produce, plus live music.
STROLL KAILUA VILLAGE
If you’re looking for an idyllic beachside town, head to Kailua Village (also called Kailua-Kona), where shops, restaurants, and hotels line the shoreline, and where visitors can spend all day enjoying the fun island atmosphere.
The mile-long stretch along Aliʻi Drive is the place to be in Kona, and the hub of activity offers something for all kinds of visitors.
Come in the day to sightsee and grab lunch. The area is home to a Hawaiian palace, an early Christian church, and a replica of an 18th-century Hawaiian temple.
Watch the sunset as you sip on Mai Tais or local brews, then walk along the strip as it comes to life at night with live music and a unique energy. This is the most lively place on the west side of the island
DAY TRIP TO VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK AT NIGHT
Even if your trip to the Big Island keeps you mainly within the Kona district, you should still venture east to Volcanoes National Park, one of the best places to visit in the state.
Wondering how to experience Volcanoes National Park from Kona? Consider taking a day trip along Highway 11. The route will take you through farmland, volcanic ruins, small towns, and historic sites. If you drive straight through those stops and go directly to the park, the drive will take about 2.5 hours.
But we recommend you take it slow. Stop to explore coffee fields, check out scenic beaches, and take in the quiet and spacious atmosphere that makes the Big Island so unique.
When lava is flowing, the best viewing of Halemaumau Crater comes at night. So take your time getting to the park, spend some daylight hours exploring the crater rim drive, eat dinner nearby, and then check out the crater’s glow after dark.
Some Volcano visitors book a one-night stay in the park or at a nearby rental, but you can also drive carefully back to Kona after dark.
Want someone else to take care of the driving? Get Your Guide is a great place to purchase a Big Island Twilight Volcano Tour, which includes an all-day itinerary from Kona to the park and back. You’ll get a daytime viewing of Kilauea and star gazing near Mauna Kea.
Whether you drive yourself or book a guided tour, a visit to Volcanoes National Park is a must-do adventure no matter where you stay on the Big Island.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO HAWAII
- YOUR HAWAII VACATION
- KAUAI: 22 BREATHTAKING THINGS TO DO IN KAUAI YOU’LL LOVE
- WAIKIKI: 24 BEST THINGS TO DO IN WAIKIKI YOU’RE GONNA LOVE
- HONOLULU: 22 ABSOLUTELY AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN HONOLULU
- HILO: 16 SPECTACULAR THINGS TO DO IN HILO, HAWAII
- BEACHES: 14 BEST BEACHES IN HAWAII FOR FUN IN THE SUN
WHERE TO STAY IN KONA HAWAII
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